The Food and Health Network of South Central NY collaborated with the Rural Health Service Corps and Food Bank of the Southern Tier Speakers Bureau to coordinate a successful poverty simulation with a combined theme of food and racial justice. The simulation was held for students from Binghamton University’s Hinman College in honor of Martin Luther King Day.

Close to 100 total participants came out to take part in the event, which aimed to simulate the lived experiences of low-income and food-insecure families. The simulation also sought to highlight some of the structural obstacles to socioeconomic mobility, personal health, happiness, and employment.

Reflecting on our experience, one of the things we felt most passionate about was grounding the poverty simulation to the realities of millions of people who struggle with poverty and food insecurity every day. By disassociating the simulation experience to reality, a poverty simulation can quickly lose focus and articulate itself more like a role-playing game than as an educational simulation. Designing the poverty simulation so that it is not only an enjoyable experience but also a solemnly insightful window into the realities of struggling families was thus both a challenge and something that FaHN felt strongly about ensuring throughout the event.

It is safe to say, however, that the addition of the Speakers Bureau was able to achieve this and impact the students in a way that the poverty simulation alone would never have been able to do. Composed of a group of women who have lived experiences struggling with poverty and food-insecurity, the Speakers Bureau touched the students and bridged the disconnect between simulation and reality via a panel discussion held prior to the simulation. During the discussion, the women shared some of their powerful insights, experiences, and recommendations for creating a more just, equitable food system. Personally, I have never seen a room of people as still or as moved as the room full of BU students during and after the panel discussion. Throughout the remainder of the simulation, students individually approached the Speakers Bureau panelists and thanked them for sharing their stories.

The simulation was fast-paced and hectic but well organized and effective. Students were forced to make simulated life decisions that they may or may not have ever had to think about making in the past. The simulation was then followed by a group discussion during which we asked students about their experiences with the simulation as well as posed questions about the intersectionality of food, racial, and socioeconomic inequality. The Hinman College students provided tremendously insightful answers to the discussion questions and exceeded the time allotted to the discussion component of the event so as to continue the emerging discourse on the structural realities of poverty and food insecurity.

The Food and Health Network would like to thank the Speakers Bureau women from the Food Bank of the Southern Tier, the Rural Health Service Corps, the United Way, the Hinman College coordinators, as well as all of the students who came out to participate in the event!